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News | March 28, 2008

Admiral arrives in Pakistan for military talks

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (March 3, 2008) — Navy Adm. Mike Mullen arrived here today for his second set of meetings with Pakistani military leaders in a month. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff arrived in Pakistan’s capital fresh from a trip to Iraq.

The chairman said he will meet with Turkish Gen. Tariq Majid, the chairman of the Joint Staff Committee, and Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Turkish army chief of staff. He spoke to reporters traveling with him about the meetings.

The chairman called the visit a simple follow-up to his previous meeting. The U.S.-Pakistani military-to-military relationship must be close and sustained, the chairman said.

“This is a very critical country, and they have been through a lot,” Mullen said.

The chairman said that since he was “in the neighborhood” – Iraq – it made sense to stop by to visit such a strong ally.

“General Kayani was very receptive to my coming,” Mullen said. “I’m mindful that these relationships don’t get built long-distance, and they don’t get built on one visit. It’s really exclusively focused on building the military-to-military relationship.”

The relationship is close. Pakistan has provided crucial access and intelligence to U.S. and NATO forces operating in Afghanistan. Pakistan also is putting pressure on al Qaeda and Taliban forces using the federally administered tribal areas inside Pakistan’s borders as safe havens for attacks into Afghanistan.

The United States and other powers have long been concerned about the influence of extremism in the tribal areas, but it is only in the past few months that Pakistan seems to have awakened to the danger. In February, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said it has only been since the Dec. 27 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that Pakistani leaders realized how dangerous the situation was.

“It’s only been in the last few months, in my opinion, that Pakistan has come to realize that the situation along the border with Afghanistan … potentially represents a serious threat to the state of Pakistan itself,” Gates said to reporters during a NATO meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The Pakistani military has limited control in the region, and the tribal influence spreads across the border to Afghanistan. The United States has offered to provide Pakistan what Pakistani leaders believe they need to combat the extremist threat.

“I told (Kayani) that we are anxious to assist – you tell us where you need assistance,” Mullen said during the interview today. There are no offers on the table, and there has been no discussion of active U.S. operational help from the United States, he said.

Mullen said he is not bringing any specific plan and “has no answers to questions that haven’t been asked” by the Pakistanis. “He knows the offer is there,” the chairman said.